About Me

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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Artsy in Amsterdam

The Rijksmuseum was fantastic! I absolutely loved seeing some of the
finest oil paintings in the world, particularly Johannes Vermeer's
'The kitchen maid' and Willem Claesz Heda's picture-perfect 'Still
life with gilt goblet'. And, of course, Rembrant's 'The Night Watch'
was more impressive in real life than I could have imagined. I was
intrigued by the amount of movement Rembrant incorporated into the
group portrait.


Providing Healthcare in the Dominican Republic

A short while ago I arrived home from spending two weeks in the Dominican Republic, where I worked with a team from International Service Learning to provide healthcare for three of the nation's poorest communities. At the same time I learned basic triage medical skills, practiced prescribing and distributing a variety of pharmaceutical drugs, and solidified the medical Spanish and tropical medicine I had picked up during the past seven weeks in Costa Rica. I also helped host a small educational camp for children in the community, where we played games and taught good hygiene such as flossing, washing hands, and wearing shoes.

Our team of five American students, one Dominican medical doctor, and a Costa Rican team leader made house visits and hosted health clinics for three poor communities in the Santo Domingo area. Our complaints about cold showers, dirty restrooms, lack of air conditioning, and uncomfortable beds were silenced as we visited homes in Mangular, conversing with residents about their health and living conditions. The first family we interviewed consisted of five members living in a house hardly bigger than my dorm room at the seminary in Santo Domingo. The family was fortunate enough to have a latrine, though they could only afford to buy a five-gallon jug of clean drinking water for the five of them to share per week. We invited ill community members to the clinic we would host the next day, broken-hearted that we could not include everyone in need due to lack of equipment, supplies, people, and time.

Each two-day community clinic was eye opening yet encouraging. We welcomed community members ranging from 6 months to 80 years in age and learned to diagnose and treat parasites, bacterial and fungal infections, rashes due to poor water quality, dangerously high blood pressure, gastritis, etc. More importantly, we learned to give compassion and comfort to our patients, and I clarified my future career path as I discovered that I enjoy relating to patients more as a pharmacist than as a physician. As I noticed the dwindling supply of medications toward the end of each day and remembered the thankful smiles of our guests, I became confident that we had made a difference.

To rest ourselves physically and emotionally, we relaxed (and whooshed!) at a couple Dominican beaches: Playa Bayahibe on the southern coast, and Samaná on the northern coast. We enjoyed home-cooked Dominican food as well as Dominican restaurant cuisine, and we experienced some of the local city culture on the streets and at nightclubs. I even danced merengue with a local TV comedian!

I am happy to be back after a long summer away from my own bed, and I now appreciate my many blessings more than ever. But I certainly will not forget the Dominican people and what I learned about similar suffering taking place in Haiti, Costa Rica, and a number of developing countries around the world. I have decided to start a campaign to encourage my peers to join me in reallocating some of our expendable income away from personal luxuries in favor of providing necessities for the impoverished, especially in poor countries. Even the smallest sacrifices accomplish much. I invite you to join us!

(Contact: juliann.peterson@student.utdallas.edu)

Discovering Malaysia Part 2

Greetings from Borneo, Bangkok, and Hong Kong

As part of my program studying governance and politics in Malaysia and Southeast Asia, we spent a week in East Malaysia, which consists of two states, Sabah and Sarawak, encompassing the northern third of the island of Borneo. Academically, we were to take note of differences between the level of development and the culture we'd experienced in Peninsular Malaysia. The difference was apparent from when we first stepped out of the airport. The air quality is a million times better and rich greenery had replaced the tall buildings I had grown accustomed to. Our cab drivers from the airport to Bako National Rainforest Park, where we planned to stay for two nights, were all Chinese instead of Indian or Malay, as is common in Peninsular. Also, the indigenous people of Borneo are not ethnic Malays, but come from a variety of tribes, including Iban, Kelabit, Penan, and others. Because none of the ethnic groups in East Malaysia make up a large minority, inter-cultural mixing is common and accepted. For this reason, people on Borneo look very different from those in Peninsular Malaysia. Our stay in Bako was definitely the highlight of my abroad experience; we spent three days hiking through the forest, seeing hundreds of new species of plantlife, birds, and insects…one of the tribesmen at the park pointed out a viper in a tree right across from our cabin and later, I even managed to get attacked by a pack of monkeys. I hiked to some gorgeous beaches and viewed some really grand rock formations and waterfalls – basically, Borneo was everything I dreamed it would be. After our stay in Bako, we spent three nights in the city of Kuching, which is the capital of Sarawak. "Kuching" means cat in Malay, so there are really kitschy cat statues everywhere – which will never cease to be hilarious. Interestingly, Sarawak was a privately owned colony belonging to James Brooke, known as the First White Rajah of Sarawak. We visited his fort, toured various museums, and shopped (a lot) for various Sarawakean handicrafts. While in Kuching, we also attending the Rainforest World Music Festival, which is an award winning show sponsored by the Malaysian government that invites performers from around the world. Another fun excursion was to the Semenggoh Orangutan Rehab Centre, where we watched orangutans (which means "jungle people" in Malay) come out for feeding time. As a perfect example of Malaysian friendliness and hospitality, two students in my group and our group leader had met a Malaysian couple in Bako. Our group leader wanted to know of a good place to get a taste of authentic Sarawakean cuisine, and the couple just invited all 12 of us over to their home. The experience was fantastic – we had a home cooked meal of delicacies including snails, dried fish, and stingray, while listening to family stories.


The courses I took in Kuala Lumpur allowed me two free weekends to do some traveling of my own, the first of which I spent in Bangkok. The city is a really vibrant mix of big city life and traditional temples and hawker stalls. We (I went with some friends I'd made in my study abroad program) arrived late on a Friday night and after getting lost on the way to the guest house, finally found it and were pleasantly surprised at the cleanliness and good service (if you're ever in Bangkok, stay at the Tae Wez Guesthouse). The next morning, I woke up to the sound of chickens clucking and the smell of fresh incense burning in front of a small Buddha shrine. That first day, we toured the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace, which was incredible. The Thais love their king – the ruling family has been in power for over 4 centuries – which is evident from the huge pictures of him along every street. Highlights of the day included getting gypped by a tuk-tuk driver, watching a couple release a pair of birds for good luck at the top of a huge standing Buddha, boating along the canal to several temples (each prettier than the last), taking pictures next to the gigantic reclining Buddha, meeting a nice German man on the metro (who was just as lost as we were), and eating pad thai, tom yum soup, chicken satay, pineapple fried rice, and fresh juice (my favorites!). At night, we had a good time eating dinner and people-watching on Khaosan Road and shopping in the night market. The next day, I walked along our street, which was in a very local side of town, and watched fruit stallers chop up fresh mangos and jicama, vendors begin grilling satay skewers, and butchers hanging up fresh meat. We spent the day shopping for trinkets in Chatuchak Market (the largest open-air market in the world), visiting Erawan Shrine, the Giant Swing, and Lumpini Park. After resting and packing up our things, we headed to dinner on the pier. Halfway through our delicious tom yam dinner, I realized I had read the itinerary wrong and that our flight would be leaving in one hour – eek! Luckily, after running to get a taxi and running through the airport gates Home Alone-style, we made it onto the plane back to KL – phew!


As for my second free weekend, I visited my uncle and his family in Hong Kong. My aunt, stationed with her husband (who is an officer in the Bangladeshi Navy) in Nanjing, also came down for the weekend on her way back to Bangladesh. Needless to say, I had a great time – Hong Kong was definitely full of surprises. We visited Disneyland, which was a bit surreal for me – I felt like I was in California, except that there were more Asians in the lines than I remembered. The people I spoke with in Hong Kong were not as fluent in English as I'd expected but everyone knew the words to the Disney tunes and danced along to High School Musical without problems. After touring the city a bit, we took the Star Ferry to the other side of the harbor where we watched the Hong Kong Symphony of Lights laser show, where the entire skyline lights up in line with music – very cool. The next day, we took a two-story bus to Stanley Market, which has a mall, restaurants (where we had dim sum), and family activities all along the pier. A short bus ride also took us to the beach. When I pictured Hong Kong in my head, I did not expect the city to be so green, but green hills and mountains come into view at every turn. The city is incredibly modern and clean – the metro stations are like airports and my uncle told me that the janitors in his office clean the crevices in the escalators every night! Because the course I'd been taking in Kuala Lumpur was covering the rise of China, I looked for symbols of authoritarianism since the liberalization of the economy was obvious everywhere. Perhaps because of the British influence or because I was there for such a short time, but I didn't find many examples of this, save signs everywhere that say things like "observe sick regulations." Overall, a great city and a true example of China's economic might!


Discovering Malaysia

Selemat Pagi fellow Scholars!

I just arrived back from Kuala Lumpur a few nights ago, and don't even know where to begin in recounting my vibrant and exciting experiences. I suppose the city itself is a good start…KL is a bustling metropolitan city and provides an interesting - and sometimes surreal - mix of a fully developed state (I had my Starbucks next door, a metro line around the corner, and was taking classes at a top-rated university) and a developing state that constantly reminded me of family trips to Bangladesh – the pollution was pretty overwhelming, government corruption is rampant, and KL is the only city in Malaysia that has reached a modern level of development. The Malaysian people are incredibly friendly and open – I was pretty much always mistaken as a Malaysian, so I was able to fully immerse myself into the culture and get to know some really interesting people and sometimes their families. The greatest interactions I had in KL were with cab drivers – not only can these men (and occasionally women) carry on a long conversation on Malaysian politics, they can easily debate the pros and cons of Barack Obama's potential rise as the next US president (not too surprisingly, not one person I met during these five weeks had any interest in another Republican president…), and discuss any number of foreign affairs issues without question.

Speaking of politics, I took two courses during my stint in Kuala Lumpur, both through American University in Washington, DC. The first course dealt with globalization, governance, and human security in Malaysia and Indonesia; the second covered regional issues in ASEAN, and the effect of the rise of China on Southeast Asia. The classes' set-up was seminar-style discussion from 10 am to 1 pm, and then following lunch upstairs in the various Indian, Chinese, and Malay food stalls, we'd meet a speaker at 2 pm. Both classes were incredibly engaging – my professor is one of the foremost scholars on Malaysian politics and Southeast Asian relations. She is a Malaysian herself and met her husband while he was working for the Foreign Service; essentially, she knows everyone there is to know in Malaysia, so our speakers ranged from women's rights, human rights, and foreign labor activists to the Prime Minister's advisor (who we met in the equivalent of the Malaysian White House) and the former Deputy Prime Minister (who we met in his multi-million dollar mansion for tea) to students from both the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization and the Malaysian Military Staff College. We took classes at HELP University, which is a private institution that provides a stepping stone for those wishing to get their degrees abroad and improve their English, making HELP an international institution with students we met from all over Africa, East Asia, and the Near East.

The political climate of Malaysia is very intricate and complicated. Upon Malaysian independence from the British in 1957, the majority Malays, of which a small class were brought up as ruling elites by the Brits but were mostly still living in rural, poverty-stricken areas, rallied against a constitution that held the three major ethnic groups of the country – Malays, Chinese, and Indians – as having equal rights. The British colonial power had recruited the Chinese and Indians to tin and rubber plantations, respectively. The Chinese experienced growth and wealth in the prosperous tin industry, and at the time of independence held a greater percentage of the country's wealth than did the majority Malays, who held less than the Indian population as well. In holding onto the reaps and rewards of what they believed to be their country, the Malays secured a preferred status in the constitution and Islam as the state religion, but with religious freedom for all non-Malays. (Malays can convert out of Islam, but face a very long bureaucratic process and social ills.) The political climate since independence was peaceful and the economy was growing rapidly until the watershed moment in Malaysian political history: the race riots of 1969 when the majority United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party lost their majority in Parliament to the opposition Democratic Action Party and Gerakan, predominantly Chinese parties. Shortly thereafter the New Economic Policy was enacted, requiring that the economy would be divided evenly between the three ethnic groups. The motive behind this was to pull up the Malays from their status as rural farmers to have equal footing and investment in the country's economy to quell any future outrage. While the NEP has visibly improved Malay holding in the Malaysian economy, it has created animosity within the Chinese and Indian groups because the NEP is essentially affirmative action measures – quota systems in public schools, cheaper loans and housing rates for Malays, and greater ease at securing a job – all for the majority population, marginalizing minority groups to a greater extent.

Despite the ethinic tug-of-war, Malaysia is a beautiful and prospering country. I woke up every morning to a great view of the KL skyline from my window, including the Petronas twin towers, which were the world's tallest buildings from 1998 to 2004 and a symbol of Malaysian oil wealth. The religious diversity is apparent on every corner; ornate mosques stand next to Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist temples. Malaysian food is perhaps the best testament to a united Malaysia; Chinese, Indian, and Malay all enjoy each other's culinary offerings, a popular conversation area being the "Mamak" stalls (Mamaks are Indian Muslims, mainly from South India – roti cenai, basically paratha with curries and veggies, is a favorite dish). Food is very cheap – a meal rarely cost me more than $2 – and the mix of rich Asian flavors and exotic proteins (shark, crab eggs, squid tentacles) definitely helped me put on a few pounds. The tropical fruits are really delicious; I loved to snack on rambutan, dragonfruit, starfruit, mangosteen, and really sweet Asian pineapples.
We travelled to several cities outside of KL as a group. Putrajaya, the country's administrative center, was built by former PM Mahathir Mohammad in only 10 years time, right before the Asian Financial Crisis of '97 – this is where we visited Zaki, one of the current PM's controversial advisors. We also visited the city of Melacca, a few hours outside of KL. Melacca has a culture of its own, a mix of Portuguese, Dutch, Malay, and Chinese influences – "Baba Nyonya" cuisine is exquisite, and only found in this part of the world. During the last weekend of our stay, our group was sponsored by the US Embassy to take a trip to the east coast of peninsular Malaysia to a city called Kuantan where we met with 100 Malaysian university students and went through several dialogue sessions on our impressions of each others' countries, campus life, and pop culture to learn more about the US and Malaysia. Lucky for us, US tax dollars allowed us to stay in a gorgeous resort right on the beach – Malaysia's dense forests, rich wildlife, and beautiful beaches are to die for. Needless to say, it was the perfect ending to a fascinating and life-changing experience for me.

Greece Part 2

(This picture was taken at the top of the Delion Temple of Apollo on the island of Paros in Greece.)

Hey Everyone,

Since I wrote last time, a lot has happened. I recently finished my internship on the island of Sifnos, and have been working mostly on the documentary. I have done some traveling to other islands, and have found some really interesting local stories for the documentary. On the island of Paros, for example, there is a cave that was inhabited by THE first lyrical poet Archilochos, when he self-exhiled himself because he caused his parents-in-law to kill themselves (he had a twisted sense of humor). Anyway, there is a fisherman on the island who will gladly take you to his cave, at the very top of the highest point near the shore and watch you climb up to the top, and when you stop to think about it, there is no way he would have ever chosen that cave to live in...so you go back to town and find out the fisherman just picked the first cave he saw. Heh. If you want to see the real cave, you will just have to see the documentary when I get home.

Along with the documentary, I've found time to chill out on the many beautiful beaches in Greece and meet some pretty interesting people along the way. I am getting a little homesick, and will not miss certain things all-too-European (i.e. bathrooms, showers, ketchup, exchange rates, etc.) Anyway, I hope everyone had just as awesome of a summer as I have had, and I will see everyone soon!


¿Qué onda? de México - Guanajuato

Well, actually this is not from Mexico. I am safely back in the States (with all my fingers and vital organs) and have enjoyed a nice full glass of tap water. However, my memories are still fresh, so if you choose to read this then yay for retrospective blogging!

I arrive at the airport with the partial group from UTD to be greeted by our uber-hyper link to the University of Gto. Maria Demello. After we were distributed to our respective host families I realized I scored the best one. Señora Lupita Zepeda was my Mexico Mother and she could talk about anything in depth and with simple enough vocabulary to where I understood what she was saying. She has an advantage talking to those with limited vocabularies because she is a child psychologist. The rest of the family was very friendly and the three kids all spoke excellent English, so vital logistics could be communicated. The location of the house was a good forty-minute walk from the University that was too short to justify a bus, so needless to say I toned up with over an hour of walking a day.

The classes at the University of Guanajuato are divided into Intermediate and Advanced. I was stuck in the funky limbo area between the two. The classes themselves are taught in all Spanish, but the professors talk clearly and slowly so there is pretty much 100% understanding among the class. A really friendly and fun professor taught grammar and conversation classes, but there were some major gaps in the organization and the material taught. The history and literature professor explained everything at least three times in different words, which is great for vocabulary increase and insured that we all understood the material. Grading on the whole is very forgiving.

The extra classes that I took included art history, cooking, and dance. Dance is great because you meet helping instructors that then you see at Salsa clubs, yay for instant partners that know what they’re doing! The cooking class is taught by a French woman at her house and the food is super delicious.

Maria Demello introduced us during the second week to her friend Guillermo Chávez who organizes excursions. His prices for his excursions are incredibly expensive for Mexico, but the experience is excellent. Our first excursion was to Teotihucan, Mexico City, Frida Kahlo’s house, Zócalo, and the Basilica de Guadelupe. That was all in one day, four AM to midnight. The second excursion was a hike that we all could have done on our own, but it was good that the guide knew where to go.

Don’t let anyone tell you that learning a language is easy. The plasticity of my brain has definitely decreased since I learned my first language. Understanding others comes rather easily, the tricky part is speaking fluently, with a bearable accent, and without too many false English cognates.

Well, I now have over five hundred pictures to sort through and relive my experience with. All of them are colorful and with excellent memories behind them.